11 Tips for Surviving Rome

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I enjoyed Rome. But for a first-timer, Rome can be quite daunting. It’s oozing with history and culture, but it’s also a city of graffiti, pickpockets, and dark alleyways.

I was not kidding about the graffiti.
I was not kidding about the graffiti.

Being two little Asian girls, my sister and I kept our guard up at all times. Our BnB was located in Cipro. It was 5 minutes away from the metro but the streets were dimly lit and the walls graffitied; a stark contrast from Singapore and Orange County. We might have been paranoid. But it’s always better to be safe than sorry.

Here are some tips to have the easiest trip to Rome.

Tip #1: Buy the Roma Pass.

If you’re staying more than 2 nights in Rome, consider getting a Roma Pass.

They have 48-hour and 72-hour options. Both provide unlimited rides on metro, tram and buses within Rome, as well as 1 or 2 museum/archaeological site admission. The Colosseum, Roman Forum and Palatine Gardens all count as 1 attraction, so that’s a great deal.

The convenience of not having to worry about buying a metro ticket whenever you hop on public transit is well worth it.

Tip #2: Buy a TIM SIM card with 3G.

As someone hopeless with maps, I relied heavily on 3G to navigate with Google Maps. Google Maps told me which metro station to walk to, which metro station to disembark, and how to walk to the site from the metro station. It was a godsend.

One of Italy’s top Telco providers, TIM provided great 3G connection. TIM stores are everywhere. There is one at the International Airport, one at the Roma Termini (central train station), and several others scattered all over. To save money, we bought only one and used a hot spot to share the data.

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Tip #3: Have the Telco store staff switch out SIM cards for you, activate it, and then ask for a switching tool (or bring one).

If the shop doesn’t have a tool they can give you, ask if they have a paper clip. The TIM store staff made one out of a paper clip for us. Ingenious! (If you have to make one yourself, bend the paper clip and cut off any wrapping material. Tada! iPhone pokey thing.) You’ll need it for when you go home/ visit another country.

Tip #4: Bring a portable phone charger.

Between taking photos, navigating, and researching the web for information, you’re going to need it. My sister brought a portable charger that held multiple charges, so we were never afraid of running out. I recommend this charger from Amazon.

Tip #5: Learn basic Italian phrases.

The Italians appreciate it. We should’ve known better. Except we didn’t. We arrived in Rome without the teeniest knowledge of Italian. (Sorry.) Learn some basic phrases, such as:

  • Grazie – Thank you
  • Prego – You’re welcome (Italians say this a lot. I’ve found it is sometimes used interchangably as “Good” or “Please” or “Welcome…”)
  • Per favore – Please
  • Si – Yes
  • No – No
  • Mi Scusi – Excuse me
  • Any food items so you’re not completely stumped by menus

Italians in the tourist industry do speak some English though, so if you’re only in Italy for a few days the basic phrases should serve you well.

Tip #6: Wear comfy shoes!

This might be a no-brainer, but you will be doing a lot of walking in Rome. Have you tried walking on cobblestones in heels? I haven’t, but since my feet ache after hours of walking in tennis shoes, I can’t imagine heels would be better!

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Tip #7: Pick a hotel or BnB in a central area.

This way you avoid having to walk through dark alleyways. I loved our room in the BnB, but I did not love the neighborhood. I’ll pick a place more central in the future.

Tip #8: Buy all admission tickets before departure if possible.

The lines to the most popular attractions are loooong. We followed the advice of Rick Steves and bought our tickets to Vatican Museum way before we boarded the plane. There were many people who didn’t and ended up having to wait in line under the blistering sun. You have too little time to be standing in line. So if an attraction offers online ticket booking, book it!

Tip #9: If visiting in summer, do not wear jeans.

It is hot as heck, humid like a sauna, and your legs will not be happy. However, certain religious sites do enforce a dress code that prohibits shorts, skirts over the knees, or bare shoulders. Wear loose-fitting pants, a long airy skirt, or bring a scarf that you can wrap around your legs or shoulders. Anything is better than skinny jeans that chafe your skin.

Tip #10: Be careful of street vendors.

There will always be several street vendors touting flowers and trinkets at major tourist spots. Most are nice. There are pushier ones, though, who will shove roses into your hands, tell you it’s for good luck, then hold out a hand and say, “Tip?” One vendor tried that with us, and when we denied his “tip”, he rolled his eyes and snatched the flower back, leaving my hand cold and empty. How quickly his attitude turned! (This happened to us at Trevi Fountain.)

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I have also read of cases where street vendors distract you while their partner-in-crime pickpockets you. Alternatively, someone may ask you to sign a petition, distract you, and pickpocket you. Steer clear of them.

Tip #11: Pack light.

I cannot stress this enough. Rome is: cobblestone streets, metro stations with stairs only, and a whole ton of walking. And if you’re taking a train to multiple cities, you’ll need to hoist your luggage up narrow stairs.

Lugging 2 large backpacks and 2 large suitcases (each weighing 25kg = 50lbs) with skinny Asian arms was not fun. Whenever a futile search for an elevator reaped no results, I would groan in defeat and wait for my sister to lug her own luggage up/down the stairs and then come up to help me with mine. Towards the end of the trip we caught on and started carrying the luggages together – I would grab the top handle and she would grab the side handle.

Seriously. Don’t do this to yourself. Pack light.

Conclusion

Our London tour guide said people either love or hate Rome. While I was there I couldn’t help but think, “I wish I was in the U.K.” But thinking back, Rome was beautiful amidst the chaos, and if I’d been better prepared, I would’ve had a better time.

Needless to say I intend on returning. There are so many things I haven’t seen or done! And, y’know, Ostia Antica beckons.

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